How to Become a Veteran Owner-Operator
Navigating the transition from military service to civilian life can be challenging, but becoming an owner-operator is an exciting opportunity for veterans interested in entrepreneurship and the trucking industry.
In this blog, we will explain the ins and outs of becoming an owner-operator, what benefits to expect, and what government programs make the transition into the trucking industry easier for veterans.
By covering essential steps, resources, and key considerations, we want to empower veterans with the knowledge they need to successfully establish themselves as independent owner-operators in the transportation industry.
Understanding the Role of an Owner-Operator
Before becoming one, you need to know what owner-operator is. Essentially, it is someone who owns and operates their own trucking business. Instead of working as an employee for a company, an owner-operator runs their own show. They own their truck or a fleet of trucks and are responsible for things like finding their own clients or companies to work for, managing their schedules, taking care of maintenance for their trucks, and handling all the business aspects of transportation. Essentially, they’re both the boss and the worker in their own trucking business, giving them more independence and control over their work.
How’s an Owner-Operator Different from a Company Driver?
Being an owner-operator and a company driver might seem similar for people not close to the trucking industry. However, several key differences show they are not the same:
- Business ownership. Owns their truck or a fleet, operating as an independent business entity.
- Autonomy and control. Has full control over schedules, routes, and clients, allowing for more flexibility.
- Financial responsibilities. Bears the costs of truck maintenance, fuel, insurance, and other operational expenses.
- Earning potential. Potential for higher earnings by managing the business efficiently but also entails higher financial risks.
- Business management. Handles all aspects of business operations, including administrative tasks, client acquisition, and paperwork.
Becoming an owner-operator is an excellent option for veterans since it reflects the independence, discipline, and leadership they gained in their military careers. It gives them decision-making liberty, fits in with their organized thinking, and offers a way to get more money by utilizing their skills and giving them a feeling of purpose in boosting the economy.
Steps to Become a Veteran Truck Driver
A person who wants to become an owner-operator must go through a standard, government-established program to be allowed to become one. In addition to that, you must add your own effort. For veterans, a few beneficial programs can make this path easier. Let’s look at all the steps required to become a fully capable owner-operator:
- Research and planning. Explore the trucking industry, requirements, and opportunities for owner-operators. Identify the type of trucking business (e.g., long-haul, local, specialized) that aligns with your interests and goals.
- Get proper licensing and training. Obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) by enrolling in a reputable CDL training program. Consider utilizing resources such as the FMCSA’s Safety Grants for training assistance.
- Gain experience. Work as a company driver to gain experience and familiarize yourself with the industry. Utilize the FMCSA’s Even Exchange Program, which helps military veterans transition to the commercial truck and bus industry by exchanging their applicable military experience for a skills test waiver when obtaining a CDL.
- Financial preparation. Research financing options to purchase a truck, considering loans, grants, or leasing programs available for veterans.
- Business setup and compliance. Register your business and obtain the necessary permits and licenses. Ensure compliance with FMCSA regulations and safety standards.
- Truck purchase or lease. Ensure compliance with FMCSA regulations and safety standards.
- Establish clientele and contracts. Network and establish relationships with potential clients or companies for contracts.
- Insurance and safety measures. Secure insurance coverage for your truck and business operations. Prioritize safety by adhering to FMCSA regulations, conducting regular maintenance, and investing in safety equipment.
- Launch and manage your business. Officially launch your owner-operator business and manage day-to-day operations efficiently.
Utilizing GI Bill Benefits
Veterans can often utilize their GI Bill benefits to cover various costs associated with attending a driving school and obtaining licensing, certifications, and training for careers in the trucking industry. The GI Bill offers different programs, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, and others, each with its own eligibility criteria and benefits.
Here’s how to use those benefits:
- Eligibility and program selection. Confirm eligibility for GI Bill benefits (e.g., Post-9/11 GI Bill) for driving school and related training.
- Covered costs. Tuition, fees, and perhaps even living allowances are among the costs associated with attending a driving school that can be paid for using GI Bill benefits. It usually covers the price of the textbooks, required supplies, and the training program itself.
- Licensing and certification. The GI Bill can cover costs associated with obtaining a CDL, which is essential for becoming a professional truck driver. That also might include additional endorsements for hauling hazmat or operating passenger transport.
- Duration of benefits. The duration of benefits and the specific coverage can vary based on the GI Bill program type, the service length, and other factors. If you want to know specific numbers for your case, you need to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the educational institution’s Veterans’ Services office.
- Application process. Veterans should apply for GI Bill benefits through the VA and provide necessary documentation, including proof of eligibility, to ensure a smooth process for utilizing these funds for driving school.
Here’s a short list of the biggest veteran-friendly truck-driving schools that accept VA funding: Roadmaster Drivers School, SAGE Truck Driving Schools, C.R. England Premier Truck Driving Schools, Heavy Metal Truck Training, Swift Driving Academy, US Truck Driving School, Prime Inc. Training Program.
Bear in mind that even though these schools are reported to be veteran-friendly, you still need to directly confirm with the school and the Department of Veterans Affairs about current acceptance and eligibility criteria.
Pros and Cons of Being an Owner-Operator
While becoming an owner-operator offers freedom and higher earning potential, it also brings more responsibility and risks along the way. Let us take a closer look at key benefits and disadvantages.
- Independence and flexibility. Owner-operators can work with more autonomy because they can choose their routes, set their own timetables, and choose which clients or contracts to take on.
- Higher earning potential. Successful owner-operators who run their businesses well may be able to make more money than company drivers. They can directly negotiate rates with customers and keep a higher portion of the earnings.
- Choice of clients and freight. Owner-operators can specialize in particular industries or routes that fit their interests and expertise by choosing the clients or freight types they want to transport.
- Business ownership. Being an owner-operator means owning a business, which can provide a sense of pride, ownership, and the opportunity for long-term growth and success.
- Operational costs. The owner-operators bear all expenses associated with operating their truck(s), such as fuel, maintenance, insurance, permits, and taxes. These costs can add up, so careful money management is needed.
- Management responsibilities. Administrative work, bookkeeping, customer acquisition, contract management, and paperwork processing are all part of running a trucking business. These responsibilities can be time-consuming and difficult, particularly for people without previous business expertise.
- Startup difficulties. Being an owner-operator might burden your finances initially because it can be expensive to buy or rent a truck, get the required permits, and set up the business.
- Variable income and risks. Due to changing freight rates, seasonal demand, and economic fluctuations, owner-operators must deal with unpredictable income. They also take on the risks of running a business, like unanticipated costs and changes in the market.
Financial Considerations for Owner-Operators
Becoming and maintaining the status of an owner-operator in the trucking industry involves various financial considerations. Here’s a breakdown of the key financial aspects to consider:
- Truck purchase or lease. The most substantial upfront cost is acquiring a truck.
- Equipment and ьaintenanceю Beyond the truck itself, consider expenses for equipment like GPS systems, communication devices, and tools. Additionally, factor in ongoing maintenance costs for regular servicing, repairs, and unforeseen breakdowns.
- Fuel expenses. Fuel costs are a significant ongoing expense for owner-operators. Fluctuating fuel prices can significantly impact profitability.
- Insurance. Owner-operators need insurance coverage for their truck(s), cargo, liability, and potentially health insurance for themselves. Insurance premiums can vary widely based on several factors.
- Taxes and permits. Taxes, permits, and fees are associated with a trucking business. It includes vehicle registration, International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), and state-specific permits.
- Business setup and administrative costs. Registering the business, obtaining necessary licenses, and other administrative costs should be considered. Additionally, expenses for accounting, bookkeeping, and legal services may arise.
- Client acquisition and marketing. Expenses related to marketing efforts, establishing client relationships, and maintaining a strong business network should be factored into the budget.
- Budgeting and cash flow. Creating a detailed budget that accounts for all expenses and efficiently manages cash flow is crucial for sustained operations.
- Emergency fund and savings. Building an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses or periods of low income is essential for financial stability.
- Profitability analysis. Continuously analyzing the business’s profitability and adjusting rates, routes, or strategies to maximize earnings is crucial.
Building a Successful Career
A pinnacle of a successful career for an owner-operator is a stable flow of loads and trusted clients to work with. These can be achieved by establishing a solid reputation for yourself and making connections with several freight brokers or local businesses.
For owner-operators to do well in the trucking industry, showing they’re trustworthy is super important. They must stick to their promises, deliver cargo on time, and be good at what they do. Acting professionally and being reliable helps them build a good reputation with brokers and shippers. When people see they’re dependable and honest, they’ll want to work with them more often.
To get more loads, owner-operators need to make friends with freight brokers. Attending industry events, trade shows, and networking conferences provides valuable opportunities for owner-operators to connect with freight brokers face-to-face, fostering trust and rapport. Utilizing online platforms and load boards specific to the trucking industry can also help in establishing connections. Being friendly, showing they’re serious about their work, and being easy to talk to helps. If they’re responsive and helpful, brokers are more likely to choose them for jobs, meaning more work and connections in the trucking world.
Veterans exploring career opportunities in the trucking industry have a promising path ahead. The skills and discipline gained from military service align well with the demands of becoming an owner-operator. As an owner-operator, taking charge of their own business offers independence, potential for higher earnings, and the chance to leverage their strengths in a dynamic field.
Starting this journey with Owner Operator Land provides veterans with invaluable support. Our platform connects owner-operators with reputable companies, offering trusted partnerships and opportunities to excel in trucking. Through our network, veterans can find reliable and rewarding avenues to kickstart or advance their careers as owner-operators, ensuring a smoother and more successful transition into this thriving industry. Join Owner Operator Land to begin a fulfilling journey in trucking, where your skills and dedication as a veteran are highly valued and appreciated.